The Shawshank Redemption at Edinburgh King's Theatre

The Shawshank Redemption review

Fear will hold you prisoner.  Hope can set you free.

The Shawshank Redemption: The nation’s favourite movie, a cult classic and a bestselling book – what could one expect of a stage production? A talented cast, an incredible set, a fantastic production? In these cases Shawshank delivered, however, it was let down by the script which just did not allow the actors to reach their full potential or the characters to develop. It was a very static script with not enough emotion created. Some of the scenes in the narrative required more brutality – in one situation the main character Andy Dufresne is gang-raped but the production did not manage to invoke enough emotion for such a horrific situation, similar to the murder of the sweet, honourable inmate Tommy. Scenes like these deserved more thought and exploration, part of theatre’s charm is to get the audience on the characters side and this script failed to encourage audience investment.

Andy Dufresne, played by Ian Kelsey, is a young successful banker who is convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover and sentenced to two life sentences in prison. Dufresne protests his innocence but with overwhelming evidence pointing to him, he is sent to the Shawshank Prison. There corruption and violence is rife as Andy soon discovers when he is sexually assaulted by two of the prisoners and is also recruited by the Warden to manage his income tax returns and help launder money. This work with the Warden and some of the prison guards earns Andy respect from his fellow prisoners and his stay in the prison becomes slightly more stable until a new inmate (Tommy) arrives, transferred from the jail in Rhode Island. Tommy hears of Andy’s case and sheds new light on the story claiming to have met the man who also killed the two people in his old jail. Andy requests a new trial from the Warden but he denies him one and a series of events lead to the murder of Tommy. After this Andy resolves to escape the prison, leading to an emotional climax.

The stage was beautifully transformed by the set – with the intimate, usually quite cosy, King’s Theatre being turned into a stark, dark prison. All the scene changes were planned and integrated into the direction seamlessly with a wonderful amount of set being flown down from the ceiling, the creation of the Warden’s office and Dufresne’s cell were extremely clever and effective. A special mention must go to the technical team as the use of the wall lights completed the effect of the stage and made it more realistic and prison-like, whilst being very impressive.

The cast were also incredible with the two leading men, Kelsey and Robinson, famous for their roles on TV in Casualty and Doctors, exploring their characters as much as the script allowed them. However, it was with these characters the lack of character development the script offered was most obvious. These were the two main characters and the audience was supposed to become involved and fond of them. It was easier to emphasise with Red as they managed to include some comedy with his dialogue but Dufresne was very one-dimensional and difficult to relate to.

Although the script let the legacy of the Shawshank redemption down, the production itself was extremely well done and attempted to find that movie magic the film is legendary for.

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